My latest book is The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century, published by Granta Books in May 2015 (and by W. W. Norton in the United States under the less alarming title, In Search of Sir Thomas Browne).
Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82) was a physician, philosopher, writer, naturalist, antiquary and myth buster who made his home in Norwich. I first read him when writing The Most Beautiful Molecule more than 20 years ago. I was reminded of him later, on moving to Norfolk, and then again upon reading W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. After that, he wouldn’t go away.
My book is not so much a biography as a voyage around Browne — and around Norfolk — that aims to show how his ideas still resonate today. In turbulent times, Browne wrestled with ideas about science, faith and tolerance, and about the patterns of the natural and artificial world. Like Ben Goldacre today, he grappled with people’s mistaken beliefs — ‘vulgar errors’, he called them — and showed how they might be dispelled by science and reason. Like Richard Dawkins, he thought about the conflict between science and religion. But unlike today’s vocal champions of science, Browne handled these controversial topics with a unique combination of erudition, humility and good humour, and a salutary forbearance doubtless born of experience at his patients’ bedsides.
I’ll be appearing at various literary festivals and elsewhere to speak about Thomas Browne. Details of these events can be found in the news section of this site.